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The Big Issues

by Keith M. Parsons, Editor


The following article is from Philo, Volume 2, Number 2.


This issue addresses some of the perennial "big issues" in the philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics. Many philosophers have been uneasy with traditional theistic definitions of "God." It has been suspected that some of the predicates ascribed to God were internally incoherent or incompatible with other divine attributes. The lead-off article by Douglas Walton in this issue addresses a particularly interesting problem: God is traditionally conceived as perfectly good, and perfect goodness implies perfect virtue, i.e., that God must possess all virtues. However, drawing on an argument of the ancient philosopher Carneades, Walton contends that some virtues require the overcoming of pain and danger, yet theism has traditionally held that God cannot suffer or be destroyed. There therefore seems to be an inconsistency in the requirement that God be perfectly virtuous yet incapable of suffering pain or destruction.

Two articles also bear on two of the most important arguments for the existence of God. Eric Sotnak addresses a particularly troublesome aspect of the Kalam cosmological argument. One premise of this argument is that there cannot exist an actual infinite. Sotnak argues that theism requires that God have actual knowledge of an infinite future, and so theists must admit that an actual infinite exists. John Beaudoin considers Hume's objection that the design argument errs in attributing more perfections to the Designer than are necessary to produce the observed effects. He clarifies Hume's objection and rebuts Richard Swinburne's criticisms.

Paul Edwards also addresses some of Swinburne's arguments. We are pleased to print here the essay "Richard Swinburne's Arguments," which is an excerpt from Edwards' forthcoming book God and the Philosophers (Prometheus Books, 2000). Edwards considers some of Swinburne's major arguments and offers a variety of criticisms.

In keeping with Philo's policy of encouraging the philosophical examination of Christian apologetics, we are pleased to present R. Harwood's essay "Dying for It." Harwood critically examines the standard apologetic argument that the veracity of the disciples' testimony is supported by the fact that they willingly died for their beliefs. Harwood clarifies what it means to die for a belief, and argues that there is no evidence that the disciples did so. He also considers the possibility that the disciples could have been sincerely mistaken or that they did not hold the beliefs apologists have attributed to them.

We also have four very interesting book reviews in this issue. Basil Smith addresses God, Reason, and Theistic Proofs, by Stephen T. Davis, another statement of the case for theism by a noted Christian philosopher. One of the best known humanist philosophers, Antony Flew, reviews The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth, by Jack A. Kent, which offers a psychological explanation of the post-mortem "appearances" of Jesus. Finally, Peter Hutcheson reviews David O'Connor's God and Inscrutable Evil, a recent study of the eternally fascinating problem of evil, and Austin Dacey reviews Richard Swinburne's Is There a God?

In sum, this issue offers much food for thought on the big questions in the philosophy of religion. The contributors present powerful critiques of some of the recent theistic answers to those questions.


Keith Parsons is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston at Clearlake.


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